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Roadmap to Attorney Career Changes

Some thoughts on career change for lawyers from career counselors Celia Paul and Stephen Rosen:

While law schools train aspiring young lawyers how to climb the mountain to legal success, they don't teach them how to come back down -- or how to pursue a new career path. If a major design flaw in the modern horse is its absence of wings, then a major design flaw in the education of modern lawyer may be the absence of knowing how to change career directions. And while it might seem daunting to be able to say "My career is a worthy expression of who I am", it is possible…with an appropriate “theory of victory", a master plan, for your career.

If you are a lawyer contemplating a move into a non-legal career, you can organize this process by posing -- and answering --certain questions.

  1. Should you change career directions? (necessity)
  2. Are you ready to change career directions? (readiness)
  3. How easy or difficult would this be personally? (simplicity)
  4. How would you decide directions appropriate to you? (choices)
  5. How would you implement the change? (action) 

To develop a "theory of career victory", here are a few approaches designed to elicit specific answers to each of these questions.

1. For example, if you believe that the use of your skills, talents and signature strengths are not fully enjoyable; that you do not have a sense of ownership, inevitability, and authenticity when using them; that your work does not provide a sense that it anchors or centers you, then your answer to the first question (should you?) will be “Yes”.

2. If you can anticipate that a lower compensation, working for younger colleagues, the possibility the new direction might not work out, that people who know you agree with the change, and so on…then you can answer “Yes” to the second question (are you ready?).

3. If you intuitively develop abiding relationships with colleagues, friends, and  associates; mentors, advisors, and role models were important to you; you are energetic and optimistic about your life and career; you have a good idea about what you can change and what you can’t…then your answer to the third question (easy or difficult?) would be “Easy”.

4. For this question (decide directions) to be answered properly and thoroughly you would wish to know, as objectively as possible, what are your most enjoyable, most transferable skills; what are your interests; what are your professional and personal priorities; and what constraints (geographical, compensation, etc.) are important to you.

A complete self-assessment is available in print (our book “Career Renewal”), and a “Free Test Drive” is available online at

5. Similarly, for this question (implementation) to be fully answered, you would need to gather enough information from people who may be doing what you think you may wish to do. Then you would have a factual basis for a rational decision, grounded in current market-place realities to substantiate your next moves.

You don’t have to change career directions very much to achieve a career that's "a worthy expression of who you are."  You don’t have to break glass to get fresh air – you can open the window.

Authored by Stephen Rosen and Celia Paul, partners in New York City-based Celia Paul Associates, Premium Career Management for Lawyers.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Great post!

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